The Corner

Tom DeLay Saga Ends—Conviction Reversed

It took nearly a decade and millions of dollars in legal bills, but Tom DeLay is now finally out of the clutches of the overzealous campaign-finance prosecutors in the same Austin-based Travis County District Attorney’s office that has indicted Texas governor Rick Perry on dubious charges. Their attempt to convict the governor looks even more suspect as a result of a decision today by Texas’s highest criminal court. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled eight to one that prosecutors had failed to make their case that the former House majority leader was guilty of money laundering as part of a plan to redraw the Texas political map in 2002. The court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that campaign contributions DeLay received were illegal. DeLay was sentenced to a three-year prison term but has been free on appeal since 2011.

“This is the end of the line for this case,” said Mr. DeLay’s lawyer, Brian Wice. “The Court of Criminal Appeals shut down a prosecution almost nine years to the day that the Travis county District Attorney’s Office embarked on this unconscionable jaunt.”

Even some liberals questioned the DeLay prosecution. As University of California law professor Rick Hasen wrote in Slate last year when a lower court reversed DeLay’s conviction:

Some liberals are no doubt disappointed to hear that a Texas appellate court today, on a 2-1 vote, reversed the conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. They shouldn’t be. There were good reasons to think that DeLay’s prosecution in Texas for violations of state campaign finance law, like the federal prosecutions of former presidential candidate John Edwards and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, involved politically motivated charges brought by overzealous prosecutors. Today’s ruling is a window into the world of corporate access to elected officials, for sure. But it confirms that the big problem is not what’s illegal, but what’s legal.

I myself have been a critic of the deal-making, pork-barreling DeLay over the years. In 2005, at the height of the Bush administration’s spending spree he infamously declared that there was nothing left to cut in the federal budget at a time when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an “ongoing victory,” and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans’ choice to borrow money and add to this year’s expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn’t seem possible.

“My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I’ll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet,” the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.”

DeLay may have disappointed conservatives at times, but he certainly deserves our congratulations for having persevered and beaten back an outrageous attempt to criminalize politics through campaign-finance statutes. Here’s hoping Governor Rick Perry also lands a black eye on the Texas prosecutors who have pursued both him and DeLay. Given their atrocious record of overreach it’s high time the Travis County District Attorney’s office be reformed. 

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